is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enshrine justice for the people, land and climate of the Northwest Territories.
The world may be hungry to go back to normal. But before COVID hit, there were other crises in the Northwest Territories which haven’t gone away: rising income inequality, racism, and climate change, all created over decades by corporate and political elites in the colonial state of Canada. In a time of unprecedented change, the NWT mines are also nearing the end of their lifespans: our economy is on the brink of something new. This moment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to examine if ‘normal’ was truly working, and how we can rebuild from COVID-19 in a way that finally puts people and the land first.
As the pandemic has unfolded, these pre-existing crises have been laid bare. Black, Indigenous and people of colour, people with low incomes, women and non-binary people, youth and Elders have been disproportionately impacted. Those without good jobs, proper housing, quality Internet, and access to mental health services in the Northwest Territories have been struggling to get by. Many of us are putting ourselves at risk in frontline jobs, while others work safely from home. Meanwhile, the climate crisis hasn’t gone away and 2020 has seen worse-than-average flooding in the NWT.
But we’ve also seen how rapidly people’s needs can be put first. After years of delays, major buildings in Yellowknife were repurposed to support those in need. Low-wage workers’ pay was boosted, and evictions were banned nearly overnight. Millions of dollars came through to support Indigenous peoples getting out on the land. From waiving Internet overage fees to subsidizing childcare, this pandemic has made clear that money was never a true limiting factor: it’s political will.
When she took office, Premier Caroline Cochrane committed to making this the ‘the most progressive government in NWT history,’ and later stated it ‘would be a sin’ to reverse social supports put in place as part of the pandemic response. But her government is already planning on cancelling many of these programs, such as the wage top-up program and childcare subsidies for parents. We cannot return to the status quo.
We must take this moment and start building a new economy that works against inequality, racism, and the climate crisis - one that isn’t so dependent on a few multinational mining corporations. We must slash our emissions, create jobs and support our people by investing in low-carbon sectors like childcare, mental health and addictions services, Indigenous Guardians programs, land protection and remediation, Indigenous language revitalization, energy-efficient affordable housing, and community-owned renewable energy. We must empower and fund our communities to implement their own solutions.
History has shown us that moments of crisis, like the one we're in now, can transform societies for the better. This moment presents a significant opportunity to rebuild in a way that finally puts people, the land, and the climate first. How we respond in this moment will have implications for generations to come.